Saturday, May 14, 2011

Landis Trail of North Fork Mountain - Chimney Top

As I mentioned in my previous entry, there are two short routes to the Chimney Top formation along North Fork Mountain trail, and this will be the second entry on Chimney Top.

I completed this hike, solo, in October of 2009. For the most part the season had already changed, autumn was in full swing, and the leaves were beyond their peak colors.

I had already completed the hike to Chimney Top via the northern terminus of the North Fork Mountain trail, so I thought I would try a different route. The Landis trail meets the North Fork Mountain trail about  half-mile south of Chimney Top and follows the spine to the spur trail for the formation.

Landis trail is a shorter route to the top, but if you're not prepared for a straight up climb of about a mile, I would recommend the formerly listed route. It is nothing compared to hiking at altitude in the Rockies, but for the Appalachians it is one of the more difficult trails you can hike. The trail is well worn and, hopefully, you can see the degree of incline in the photo.

This is where it gets interesting. I had noticed on the drive up the North Fork Valley there was a very distinct line of snow on both the North Fork and Allegheny Mountains. When I hit about 2,000 feet on the climb, this is what I encountered.

It made the hike so much better, the color of the leaves and the dusting of snow was incredible. The climb ended at the junction of North Fork Mountain trail.

From this junction it was a series of ups and downs, weaving through the mountain laurel, all the time trying to avoid getting lost amongst all of the spur trails to the multiple vistas. If you don't get motion sickness, this short video shows what it was like to hike through the snow-covered jungle of mountain laurel and rhododendron.

As I made it to the spine and made my way to the first of several openings in the wall of rhododendron, the snow picked up.

From another view, you can see the distinct snow line I saw from the valley floor.

I wouldn't be honest if I said I didn't get turned around a couple of times as I attempted to make as many trips to the edge as I could. But I couldn't help myself as every vista seemed to be better than the last.

I eventually made it to the small cairn and a quick climb to the area of Chimney Top. Some of the following shots may look familiar, simply with a few more colors on the trees and a dusting of  the white stuff.

I was very careful, being solo, as I pulled myself up to the perch overlooking the Chimney Top formation. A chance I probably shouldn't have taken by myself, but you can see why I did.

I didn't spend nearly as much time on top this time. I snapped off several photos for my memories of another incredible adventure to (again) one of my favorite locations east of the Mississippi.

On the way back, I couldn't help but take a few more trips to the edge and one last look across the valley to the top of Dolly Sods Wilderness.

When I made it back to the junction of Landis trail, I set up the camera for a very rare self-portrait. I had to have a photo of the fact that I was hiking in shorts in the snow and in late October. You may or not be able to tell from the photo but my pants, socks, and shoes were soaked through from hiking through the snow-covered rhododendron.

The hike straight down was uneventful but the pounding from the downhill sure was hard on the knees.

From a quality standpoint, I don't know that I could choose one route over the other as they both have amazing vistas along the spine of North Fork Mountain. However, this hike is definitely more difficult. This trip, because of the snow was significantly better than the first. Here is one more motion sickness inducing video of a section of open hardwoods along the top.

As with the hike to Chimney Top from the northern side, there is no water so plan accordingly.


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